Guesstimating the Macron presidential candidacy

Un autre billet en anglais, en complément du précédent, au sujet de l’élection présidentielle, et en réaction aux amis qui m’ont fait remarquer que j’étais trop catégorique dans mon refus de voir Emmanuel Macron au second tour.

En bref : j’ai fait « de mon mieux » (si l’on peut dire), mais je ne vois toujours pas Macron au-delà de 7 millions de voix, ce qui n’est suffisant pour atteindre le second tour de l’élection présidentielle qu’en cas d’abstention massive.

My previous post on the 2017 French presidential election was primordially an attempt to provide a precise estimate of the (lower credible bound of the) vote for Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the extreme-right Front national party.

Several friends, however, have focused their reactions to my post on one of my side comments, about the likelihood of “Centrist” candidate Emmanuel Macron to reach the second round of the election. Here are some more thoughts on that.

tl;dr – I am not making any predictions about whether Emmanuel Macron will be on the second round of the French presidential election. Rather, I am arguing that there is no evidence to believe that he will.

In what follows, I examine Macron’s candidacy in light of (1) its “Centrist” (social-liberal) positioning, (2) its relative position within voting choices, and (3) its opportunistic potential, which I believe to be the most correct way to assess its first-round electoral potential.

Update, March 16: added a link to a research note that contains useful information to support my remarks on Macron’s position vis-à-vis the French median voter.

Macron as a “Centrist” candidate

Macron was minister of the economy under incumbent Socialist president François Hollande from 2014 to 2016, but he did not take part in the Socialist primary election. Instead, he has been running since 2016 as an independent candidate with support from various centre-left and centre-right politicians, thus making him some kind of a “Centrist” candidate.

It also seems fair to designate Macron as the “Centrist” candidate in the election because he has received the support of the former historical “Centrist” candidate François Bayrou, who ran for the (centre-right) UDF/MoDem party in the 2002, 2007 and 2012 presidential elections.

The representation of Macron as a “Centrist” candidate is reinforced by the fact that there are no other Centrist candidate in the election, and by the relative positions of left-wing candidate Benoît Hamon and right-wing candidate François Fillon, who are believed to come from the left-wing and right-wing of their respective parties. As a consequence, Macron is currently perceived as a candidate who is closer to the median voter than any of the governing party candidates.

It should be noted that the French presidential election has already been won by a “Centrist” candidate: in 1974, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing distanced Socialist candidate François Mitterrand by 425,000 votes, in the closest presidential election since the inception of the French Fifth Republic in 1958.

Some observers are reading Macron’s candidacy as a new “Giscardian moment” in French politics, but that view is, in my opinion, highly misguided. In 1974, the French right-wing was officially divided between rival Gaullist and Centrist political parties, leading to an “endogenous switch” from the former to the latter.1 That division does not exist today.

Macron as a potential Condorcet winner

It is much more likely, in my view, that Emmanuel Macron might (just might) be a potential Condorcet winner for some part – not all – of the French electorate. There seems to be empirical support for that hypothesis in some opinion polls, but I would argue that opinion polls are, by design, cognitively biased towards these kinds of scenarios.

If we accept to consider Macron as a winner in the Condorcet paradox, then we accept that the preferences of a determinant majority of voters are of the following form:

P1 : A > B > C

P2 : B > C > A

P3 : C > A > B

… where A and B designate the left-wing and right-wing candidates of the election, and C designates Macron.

It does not matter, for our purposes, which of Hamon or Fillon are denoted by A and B, as the paradox persists regardless: under rank-ordering, there is a set of voting preferences ( P1, P2, P3 ) that eliminates candidate C from a majority vote that retains only the two largest sets of preferences, even though candidate C had initially obtained the largest set of transitive preferences.

Opinion polls are cognitively biased towards that scenario because they do not limit the depth of rank-ordering, whereas a two-round election with only two candidates on the second round does: in effect, the first round of the election does not serve to select A or B, but to eliminate all other candidates. Unless the election proceeds through cardinal voting, all preferences beyond the first choice are irrelevant.

A somewhat more realistic way to poll the electorate of a two-round election would be to ask them which pair of candidates (X, Y) they want to see reach the second round of the election, in which case the question boils down to which candidate they do not want to see get past round one:

P1 : ( A, B ) > { ( A, C ), ( B, C ) } ~ ¬ C

P2 : ( B, C ) > { ( B, A ), ( C, A ) } ~ ¬ A

P3 : ( C, A ) > { ( C, B ), ( A, B ) } ~ ¬ B

I have yet to see any polling institute frame its questions under that kind of “eliminative” voting behaviour. Note that this behaviour scales alright even if one considers more than three candidates, which would be relevant in the context of (at least this instance of) the French presidential election.

Macron as an opportunistic newcomer

Yet another way to frame Macron’s candidacy consists in comparing it to that of Édouard Balladur, a former Prime Minister who ran as an independent right-wing candidate in the 1995 French presidential election, at a time where almost all current politicians were already fighting for ministerial seats and presidential careers. Here are some pictures from Balladur’s government formation in 1993, showing, from left to right, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Fillon and Alain Juppé:

Encouraged by his high approval rates at the end of his dual-executive “cohabitation (divided government) mandate under Socialist president François Mitterrand’s second term, Balladur ran and came out out third on the first round of the election, with 5.6 million votes out of 30.4 million (18.5%). Balladur lost to Socialist Lionel Jospin, who came out first, and to the legitimate right-wing candidate Jacques Chirac, who got 690,000 more votes (roughly 2.3 percentage points) than Balladur.

Balladur and Macron are biographical twins. Both are archetypical French political elites, who studied in the same schools – Sciences Po Paris and the École Nationale d’Administration –, and then worked in the same offices, at the Secretary General of the Presidency and at the Ministry of Economics and Finance. Both have also worked for the private sector, although Balladur worked for the industry while Macron is a former banker.

Balladur and Macron might also be considered to be ideologically close. During his time as Prime Minister, Balladur (unsuccessfully) pushed for an economic reform that would have allowed employers to pay young workers less than the minimum wage. My own interpretation of Macron’s statements on the low-wage jobs offered by Uber puts him very close to that same idea, which has become a staple of social-liberal labour reforms, along with zero-hour contracts:

The caption reads: “The reality is that indeed, [Uber drivers] sometimes work 60 or 70 [weekly] hours to earn the [minimum wage].” In the rest of the interview, Macron argues that some fraction of the minimum wage is better than not working, or better than working in the criminal economy. Watch the full thing.

Last, there is some similarity between Balladur and Macron in terms of their electoral strategy. The similarity stems from the fact that, when Balladur ran for president in 1995, he was supported by many centre-right politicians, as well as by some right-wing dissidents disloyal to the Chirac candidacy. Quite similarly, Macron’s candidacy has gathered support from centre-right politicians, joined by some centre-left Socialists.

This parallel, however, also reveals some critical differences. In 1995, the centre-right was regrouped into a single political party that had not yet split into the two different parties that it has now become, one of which is currently holding to the electoral alliance that it has formed with the right-wing ahead of the forthcoming legislative elections.

Furthermore, and more importantly than the partisan structure itself, while Balladur could ground his presidential candidacy on the landslide electoral victory of the centre-right and right-wing parties in the 1993 legislative elections, Macron has no past event on which to base a tentative electoral coalition between his centre-right and centre-left supports.

That last difference is, to me, a crucial one. In my view, it shows that, beyond their common opportunism, Balladur and Macron are two different kinds of candidates, with only the latter really fitting the description of an opportunistic political newcomer trying to take advantage of low incumbent governmental performance:

Predicting Macron’s first-round score

Let’s now turn to reading Macron’s tea leaves.

While my previous post explored Marine Le Pen’s first-round electoral prospects, the methodology that I used to do so does not apply here, because Macron’s “En marche !” movement did not run in any past “intermediary” election. Instead, what we have at hand are limited similarities (and, in my view, some crucial differences) between Macron and former presidential candidates François Bayrou and Édouard Balladur.

François Bayrou scored 2 million votes (6.8% vote share) in 2002, 6.8 million votes in 2007 (18.5%), and 3.2 million votes in 2012 (9.1%). This puts his best electoral performance at the same vote share as Balladur obtained in 1993, although Balladur reached that percentage by getting 1.2 million votes less.

In the first round of the 2012 presidential election, a vote count of 6.8 million votes would have placed a hypothetical candidate in third place, just above Marine Le Pen. What I suggest is to use that count as the lower bound of a plausible interval for the Macron vote in 2017, and to use a “Bayrou 2007” vote share of 18.5% out of 47 million registered voters with 80% turnout (i.e. 6.95 million votes) as the upper bound of that same interval.

That puts my highest prediction of Macron’s first-round score at almost 7 million votes.

Given how it is computed, this prediction is highly uncertain: for instance, Macron might just as well turn to be a “Jean-Pierre Chèvenement” style of independent presidential candidate, in reference to a former Socialist minister who ran as an independent in the 2002 presidential election and ended up with just above 5% of the vote share. In other words, my lower bound does not preclude the possibility of a Macron “overhyped” candidacy that will eventually fare well below my estimate.

Furthermore, my prediction makes Macron a possible second-round candidate only if the 2017 presidential election makes 18.5% of the vote enough to reach the second round. If you read my previous post, you know that this has been the case only once since 1995, when Jean-Marie Le Pen got on the second round of the 2002 presidential election with roughly 17% of the first-round vote.

On top of that, to reach my upper bound of almost 7 million votes, Macron would need more than twice the electorate that François Bayrou managed to attract on the first round of the previous presidential election. Even if we grant Macron all of Bayrou’s former 2012 voters, that leaves Macron with 3.75 million votes to find among the rest of the electorate.2

That last number represents over a third of the votes that either right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy or left-wing candidate François Hollande each got on the first round of the 2012 presidential election, and still over a third of the right-wing vote in the second round of the last regional elections (which had a much lower turnout rate than we should expect the 2017 presidential election to reach).

Assessing Macron’s candidacy

I can understand why young, brilliant, ambitious and highly connected technocratic elite Emmanuel Macron is running for president, just as I can understand why the French media are loving his independent, “above-the-rest” candidacy. But that does not affect my current prediction that Macron has very little chance to be on the second round of the 2017 presidential election.

Macron is a former banker with exactly zero electoral credentials and no preexisting electoral support. His political movement is not a mass movement, and his media dominance is nowhere near the kind of mass communication that propelled the rise of right-wing moguls like Silvio Berlusconi in Italy or Donald J. Trump.

In order for Macron to reach the second round of the upcoming presidential election, one needs to imagine a mass defection of right-wing and/or left-wing voters—not such an unlikely scenario, given the current state of affairs, but Macron is absolutely not the only candidate that disloyal voters from either side might defect to.

Taking all these parameters into account, I struggle to imagine any reason why Macron would effectively be on the second round. Perhaps his candidacy would benefit from a “mass abstention” scenario that would result in very low turnout, but that is just one more unlikely configuration that defies prediction.3

In brief, and somewhat unoriginally, Macron remains my “blind spot” in this election. He might do “well” in the first round, but to an extent that I do not deem sufficient to bring him to round two.

If you think otherwise, I would need to see some hard facts, articulated into some kind of plausible electoral scenario that does not stray too far ahead from past elections.

As way of full disclosure, I have no personal sympathy for Emmanuel Macron, and I decided not to re-register to vote when he was made Minister of the Economy, which I still consider to be the single most critical strategic mistake ever made by a left-wing French government. I have even less sympathy for Marine Le Pen and the Front national, the main topics of my previous post.

Further reading4

The reason why this post includes a short discussion of Macron as a potential Condorcet winner is because François Bayrou has been called a Condorcet winner before, in the context of the 2007 presidential election. For a detailed account of Bayrou’s 2007 high performance in that election, see this book chapter by Sylvie Strudel and this journal article by Nicolas Sauger.

After researching the issue a bit more, I also got the impression that Macron’s potential as a Condorcet winner might be even higher than Bayrou’s: many left-wing voters seem hesitant about their first-round vote,5 and the spectrum of politicians calling for a Macron vote extends to all sorts of right-wing and left-wing figures, including Greens and even (former or current) Communists, all calling for some kind of “vote utile”.

For a clearer formulation and detailed discussion of the Condorcet voting paradox, I highly recommend reading Dasgupta and Maskin’s “On the Robustness of Majority Rule” (2008):

  1. The “endogenous switch” (alternance endogène) expression comes from Jean-François Sirinelli, La Cinquième République, Presses Universitaires de France, 2009, p. 39. []
  2. Adjusting the Bayrou vote for the difference in electorate size between the two elections brings that figure down by only 200,000 votes. []
  3. See my very last footnote for a comment on why I prefer not to predict anything about turnout and voting uncertainty in this blog post. []
  4. This section was added a few hours after initial publication, based on early comments from my co-blogger Joël and a few other friends. I also added a few more links and changed a few words here and there. []
  5. Since making precise statements about (turnout and) voting uncertainty involves looking at polling data, I plan to finish this series by covering that topic in a third and last blog post. Stay tuned! []

Reading the tea leaves of the French 2017 presidential election

Un billet en anglais, pour les copains et copines qui se demandent, depuis l’étranger, si ce genre d’article, sur la possibilité pour le Front national d’emporter l’élection présidentielle à venir, est justifié. En bref : de mon point de vue, non. J’en profite, du coup, pour publier ma lecture des feuilles de thé électorales de la présidentielle 2017, à onze jours de la validation des dernières candidatures par le Conseil constitutionnel.

Recently, quite a few friends from outside France have been asking me or other friends whether Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the French Front national extreme-right party, has any chance to win the next French presidential election. Here are some thoughts on that.

tl;dr – It’s highly unlikely that the Front national will win the next presidential election, unless it manages to attract a massive amount of (mostly right-wing) voters in the second round.

Let’s start by looking at some raw numbers.

Recent first-round votes

The French electoral system features several two-round elections, and several “intermediary” (i.e. local) elections between two presidential/legislative elections, which have been synced since 2000.

Because the French presidential election has two rounds, the best estimate of how a candidate or party is doing is to look at the last two-round intermediary elections, which were the departmental elections and regional elections of 2015.1

The Front national did very well on the first rounds of both elections. In the départementales, it got 5.1 million votes (25% of the vote), and led the vote in roughly 1 canton out of 6. In the régionales, that figure rose to 6 million votes (27% of the vote), which was also the number of voters that Marine Le Pen got on the first round of the 2012 presidential election.

Lesson No. 1 is therefore that the Front national currently has a very large electoral base. In the first round of the last intermediary elections, that base was just a couple million votes below what governing coalitions got: right-wing coalitions scored 6.8/7.4 million votes, and left-wing coalitions scored 7.4/7.8 million votes (départementales/régionales, first round results only).

This is certainly good reason for concern if you support any other party–or rather, any left-wing or right-wing coalition, because despite what many people seem to think, French elections are won by (second-round) coalitions, not parties.

Which brings me to my next section.

Recent second-round votes

Second-round elections require parties to either find coalition partners, or to attract additional voters. Most of the time, the Front national has to opt for the latter strategy, because all other contending parties will coalesce against it—a strategy known as the cordon sanitaire/front républicain strategy.

There have been, however, many local ‘exceptions’ to the cordon sanitaire, whereby the Front national was able to formally ally with right-wing politicians, and several right-wing ideologues are calling for a “union des droites” (“right-wings union”) between the Front national and any other potential right-wing party. More on that towards the end of this post.

On the second round of the last two intermediary elections, the Front national lost 1 million votes in the départementales, but gained 800,000 voters (+ 13%) in the régionales.

Vote loss in the second round is a common scenario for the Front national in intermediary elections: the same thing happened in all previous similar elections, and in all pre-2015 regional elections. It is, in fact, the common scenario that all parties go through, because of the difference in turnout between intermediary and non-intermediary elections.

The important part here is therefore the result of the second round of the 2015 regional election, in which the Front national made some nontrivial progress to the point of getting more votes than in the 2012 presidential election. Despite that, it failed to win any regional council presidencies, just as it failed to win any departmental council presidencies in the previous 2015 local election.

Lesson No. 2 is therefore that the Front national is currently in capacity to win votes between the two rounds of an election, just as it did in the 2002 presidential election when Jean-Marie Le Pen gained around 700,000 voters (+ 14%) in the second round.

This is another good reason for concern if you support any other party/coalition, although right-wing coalitions enjoyed a much larger increase of (over 3.2 million) votes between the two rounds of the 2015 regional election.

Now let’s look at 2017.

Predicted 2017 candidates

Like many other political spaces, French politics are currently stricken with anti-incumbent syndrome. François Hollande, the incumbent left-wing president, is not running for reelection. Neither will Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who did only one term right before Hollande.

Instead, the French (left-wing) Socialist Party has elected Benoît Hamon, a candidate who is further away from the French median voter than his former rivals, and who is facing serious competition from far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Meanwhile, the French (right-wing) Republicans Party has elected François Fillon, a candidate who was already less appealing to right-wing Centrists than many others, and who is currently facing highly damaging legal charges.

Last, the “centrist” candidate of the election, Emmanuel Macron, who started as an outsider even though he was François Hollande’s minister of the economy, is now receiving support from both left-wing and right-wing moderates.

The problem with that setup is that governing party candidates are facing mediocre second-round prospects – even against a Front national candidate, neither Hamon or Fillon can expect much of each other’s voters to vote for them. This state of affairs is leading quite a few observers to consider Macron as the best second-round candidate against Marine Le Pen, but let’s remember that Macron, a former banker with economically liberal views, has never run for election before.

What about Marine Le Pen?

Predicted 2017 first-round vote

How much of the vote will go to the Front national in a few weeks?

Vote shares are very hard to predict under varying turnout rates, which is highly relevant in the case of the French presidential election: in the last four elections, first-round turnout has varied by -3, -7, +12 and -4 percentage points.

Furthermore, the vote shares of the candidates who made it to round 2 have also been highly variable: 21/23 in 1995, 20/17 in 2002, 31/26 in 2007, and 27/27 in 2012. Barring the 2002 vote share of Le Pen, all of those shares are within the 21-31% range, which is already wide—and if you find no good reason to discard Le Pen 2002, the range of vote shares grows to 17-31%, which definitely says something about the difficulty of predicting electoral results.

With these known unknowns in mind, my prediction is that, with – at the very least – 7 million expected votes in the first round of the presidential election, Marine Le Pen is highly likely to make it to the second round of the election, with a vote share of – at the very least – 19%. I get to that vote share by computing

V = F / ( E × T )

where F are the 7 million votes for the Front national in the second round of the regional elections, E is an electoral body of 45.2 million voters (estimated from the 2015 regional election), and T an expected turnout of 80%.

The estimate above is excessively conservative, because it is estimated from a fixed number of Front national voters that is far below the size of its potential electorate on the presidential election. To fix that, let’s have

V = ( F × βT ) / E

where F now stands for the 6 million votes for the Front national in the first round of the regional elections, βT is a multiplier of 1.6 that accounts for the expected difference in turnout (from 50% to 80%), and E is unchanged.

That formula returns a vote share of 21%. Independently, my dear occasional co-blogger Joël has made a (much better informed) first-round prediction of a Front national vote share within the 21-28% range, and other vote specialists seem okay with that estimate.

What tends to make estimates above 20% credible is the current predicament of the right-wing candidate, and the fact that the Front national has been generally considered to perform better on presidential elections than on intermediary ones. Recent intermediary elections, however, might have been highly successful for the Front national precisely because that pattern is less true today.

Predicted 2017 second-round vote

It makes little sense to produce second-round estimates before getting first-round results, but the second-round results of previous intermediary elections are, again, useful to anticipate how the 2017 presidential election will play out.

In the second round of the 2015 regional elections, left-wing and right-wing coalitions respectively scored 8 million and 10 million out of 26.5 million voters, with turnout being slightly below 60%—20 percentage points less than presidential-election second rounds.

If the second round of the presidential election includes either a left-wing or a right-wing candidate, that candidate should therefore be able to get between 9.3 and 13 million voters from his own ranks, assuming that voters have fairly stable preferences and a turnout approaching 80%. Therefore, in order to win the election on her own, Marine Le Pen would need to find at least 30% more voters than she has ever had so far.2

Something pretty unusual would be required for that to happen, and the most likely of those rare events might be a split of the right-wing Republicans party into two factions, one of which would coalesce with the Front national on round 2.3

The likelihood of that last scenario is, in my view, a good estimate of how likely it is that the Front national will be able to win the presidential election later this year. To be clear, I am talking of a really low likelihood, although one that has probably increased as of late.

The likelihood of such an event is low because the frontmen of the French right-wing are just not interested in ruling through an Austrian-style “blue-black” coalition. There would need to be a transformative event in French politics for that situation to change.

Last remarks

My highly unoriginal prediction is that the Front national will be on the second round of the French presidential election, but will then lose to whoever it faces. What is that prediction worth?

Not much, but surely more than the strange error-correction bias that is leading many people to believe that, because the establishment was betting against Brexit and Trump, then surely all bets are off in the French presidential election. Unlike the two major unforeseen outcomes of 2016, the French presidential election has two rounds and can be compared with many past data points. That, alone, should suffice to invalidate what is already a very flawed comparison of events.4

It is, however, correct to observe that were the Front national to win the French presidential election, then what would follow would be some kind of a “Trump-style” transition of power, with the party struggling to build a functional governmental apparatus, by which I mean: forming a stable and loyal legislative majority, and gathering bureaucratic support from top civil servants to run its administration. The Front national currently has none of the resources required to do any of that, and therefore to govern.5

Under the likely scenario of the Front national losing in the presidential election but making important gains in the legislative elections, I will have to update my comment with notes on what to expect next. It will have to do with the strategy of the Front national, which, under Marine Le Pen, has been trying to win enough votes to win on second rounds. That strategy has been successful so far, but there is still a gaping 30% of voters to shift towards the Front national for that strategy to reach its end-goal: the French presidency.

Since that shift might never occur, several Front national figures, such as Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, are instead suggesting to go for local alliances with right-wing Republican dissidents, under the “union des droites” scenario that is already working well in some parts of Southern France. The “Marion strategy” is local, short-term and guaranteed to work to some reasonable extent: in contrast, the global, long-term “Marine strategy” described above might never succeed.6

Further reading

If you can read French, you should be reading Joël’s book on the Front national, or read his media papers: see, e.g., this radio show, these Mediapart articles (subscription required), and two articles published by Le Monde diplomatique: one on the North/South geography of the Front national vote, and one on the front républicain strategy mentioned in this post.

Two related readings that I would like to recommend on populism and populist parties in Europe are Perry Anderson’s essay “Why the system will still win,” published this month in the English edition of Le Monde diplomatique, and Cas Mudde’s 2012 Stein Rokkan lecture, “Three decades of populist radical right parties in Western Europe: So what?

Last, I do not read much from Arthur Goldhammer‘s French Politics blog – there are simply too many daily posts for me to be able to follow –, but I know that he does a stellar job at covering the topic. Following a few of his early-March links, I ended up on the brilliantly titled Arun With A View, and found that post: “Marine Le Pen: can she win?” Make it your next stop for some earlier –and, in my opinion, much wilder– electoral predictions about the 2017 French presidential election.

Update, 7 March 2017: added a few links, removed a few words. You might also want to listen to former Prime Minister Alain Juppé explaining why he will not replace Fillon as the right-wing candidate: see this blog post, this article, and the press conference itself.

  1. There are many kinds of intermediary/local elections, but I will focus only on those that took place in 2015 at the county (canton/département) and regional levels. The Front national performed extremely well in the French EU elections of 2014, but turnout is so low in those elections that I prefer to discard information based on such small numbers of votes. Similarly, I prefer to discard the 2014 municipal elections because I find them to be more “granular” (read: personalised), and would therefore need more data than I care to look at. Last, I will not be looking at by-elections because I do not have the adequate data at hand, but they would be, of course, relevant to paint a more accurate picture of post-2012 voting patterns, and of second-round vote shifts especially. []
  2. That estimate discards the still-likely scenario that Marine Le Pen would be facing Emmanuel Macron in the second round. I do not know what to make of that scenario, since I cannot resolve myself to imagine how Macron would go from having no electoral base to, all of a sudden, having enough votes to get past the first round. If my prediction goes wrong, I expect the error to be related to that blind spot, but in all honesty, I cannot see how a banker – a banker! have you ever talked about bankers with anyone earning less than the median wage? – would magically flip French politics on its head. []
  3. The Republicans Party already hosts both elected officials and voters who are, in effect, indistinguishable from their Front national equivalents. This article about Philippe de Villiers shows how porous the frontier currently is between the French right-wing and far-right, a state of affairs for which there is also tons of non-anecdotal evidence. []
  4. Just consider the British case: Brexit, which never polled so bad as to become a completely unlikely outcome, is only the last of many electoral surprises, if you consider the results of the last general election, or even the nomination of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The fact that Britain now operates a multi-party system has likely taken its toll on electoral prediction. If you really want to draw parallels between France and the UK, then you might want to equate Hamon’s primary election to Corbyn’s—but the comparison stops right there. []
  5. This recent op-ed by the French ambassador to Japan very eloquently makes my point. []
  6. On these two strategies, see the excellent documentary “Marine Le Pen, la dernière marche ?” that aired on French TV channel France 3 in January of this year. []

Bonne année quand même

Attention conservation notice (à la façon de) : ce billet est rédigé dans le style de l’excellent blog de Philip Schrodt, moins les qualités. Du coup, le billet est trop long, avec des tonnes de notes bas-de-page. Pire, il est même grossier par endroits. Je prends la bonne résolution de ne pas vous refaire le même coup avant le prochain bilan annuel.

Mettons-nous d’accord sur une chose :

L’année 2016 fut quand même une belle année de merde.

Je dirais même que, sur une échelle de 0 à 10 où 0 correspond à Cyril Hanouna et 10 correspond à l’existence des licornes, cette année 2016 doit bien valoir un score d’environ -4, voire -5 avec les disparitions de Gotlib (bien qu’il ne dessinât plus) et David Bowie (qui chantait encore), l’annulation du concert parisien de Dasha Rush, et l’absence de nouvel album de Casey.

Ni les nouveaux albums de Brian Eno, Death in Vegas, Underworld, Sumac et Swans, ni même le premier album, pourtant exceptionnellement réussi, de Mark Pritchard, n’arriveront à faire passer la pilule :




Et juste pour être sûr, le test ultime : les meilleurs voeux de Boris Johnson. Qu’un pareil guignol puisse avoir la responsabilité des relations diplomatiques de ce qui était, il y a moins d’un siècle, un empire couvrant à peu près un quart du globe, est en soi la marque de fabrique de l’année qui vient de s’achever.

Ci-dessous, un bref passage en revue de quelques-uns des clowns tristes de 2016.

À peine…

À peine les Turcs avaient-ils pris le temps de rigoler de leurs “voisins” grecs, qui ont perdu à peu près un tiers de leurs salaires et autres traitements sur décision de l’Eurozone1, que leur propre pays se prenait un coup d’État manqué en plein poire, et depuis lequel la lire turque a perdu environ 20% de sa valeur sur le marché des devises2. On en est à se demander ce qu’il reste du “miracle turc”, pays auquel on proposait encore il y a dix ans de rentrer un jour dans l’Union européenne3.

En Syrie et en Irak, ou ce qu’il en reste aujourd’hui, la communauté internationale l’OTAN s’était mise d’accord sur une chose : il faut donner sa chance à la guerre. Avec un peu de bol et quelques tonnes de bombes incendiaires (voire d’armes chimiques), il était en effet possible d’imaginer qu’un dictateur extermine autant d’islamistes que possible, avant d’être lui-même destitué par des minorités très pressées de reconstruire une chouette démocratie multi-ethno-confessionnelle. Pas de bol, ça ne s’est pas tout à fait passé comme ça.

Au Darfour, où le conflit fait chaque année depuis 2003 quelques dizaines de fois le nombre de victimes du 11 septembre 2001, quand on sort prendre un café et acheter du pain, on se retrouve parfois dans une manifestation pacifique demandant l’arrêt des violences. Trente morts et quelques menaces plus tard, on se retrouve parfois dans un canot à moteur au large des côtes italiennes. Et encore quelques milliers de kilomètres plus loin, on découvre les joies des lits en carton sous la ligne 2 du métro parisien4.


Il ne se passe heureusement pas une seconde sans que l’on dépense des millions de mégawatts pour faire tourner des serveurs enregistrant scrupuleusement chacun de ces événements : la population civile se charge d’en parler sur les réseaux sociaux ; les gouvernements se chargent d’archiver tout ça à des fins de surveillance de masse ; et tout ça finit dans un data center au Texas, au cas où cela puisse servir, demain, à identifier la dernière recrue de l’État islamique.

Évidemment, le stratégie ci-dessus ne fonctionne pas, ou plus exactement, on se retrouve avec 99,99% de faux positifs – vous avez déjà essayé de cueillir des fraises avec une moissonneuse-batteuse ? – et une tonne de gens à surveiller sans les personnels nécessaires pour le faire : compter au moins 12 agents pour chaque suspect. C’est peut-être le prix à payer quand on finance mieux la recherche contre la chute des cheveux que celles sur le wahhabisme et le nettoyage ethnique.

Pour connaître la suite, allez écouter ou lire Wassim Nasr, Abou Djaffar, François Burgat, Pierre Conesa, Scott Atran, Henri Laurens, Gabriel Martinez-Gros, Pierre-Jean Luizard, David Thomson, Romain Caillet, Michel Goya, Yves Trotignon, et j’en oublie quelques-uns. Parmi ces spécialistes, qui n’ont pas les mêmes expertises et qui ne disent pas nécessairement les mêmes choses, pas un seul ne donne moins de dix ans d’existence à la conjoncture actuelle, et les plus réalistes parlent d’au moins une génération (25 ans) pour changer les choses ne serait-ce qu’à la marge.

Si je devais ne recommander qu’une seule intervention sur le sujet du djhadisme et des années à venir, ce serait celle-ci :

Pendant ce temps…

Pendant ce temps, aux États-Unis, de jeunes suprémacistes raciaux se font jeter des fleurs par d’influents tarés richissimes à côté desquels Néron passe pour un prix Nobel de la Paix. Les esprits les plus optimistes calent un peu pour expliquer que le pays s’en remettra, les plus lucides ayant compris que tout va y passer, et qu’il faut bien avouer que les États-Unis ont élu un autocrate5.

Hail Jesus Donald! Et si vous n’avez toujours pas lu l’histoire de Tony Schwartz, le ghostwriter de The Art of the Deal, écoutez-le, ça vaut le détour (de même que David Cay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump) :

En 2017, on pourra donc entendre Donald J. Trump réfléchir à haute voix à qui pourrait bientôt siéger à la Cour Suprême des États-Unis, une institution qui devrait être l’antithèse de son style de pouvoir. Néanmoins, et je l’ai déjà écrit mais le répète, c’est au niveau des relations internationales que portent mes principales inquiétudes.

Sur ce point, plusieurs passages de cette interview de Noam Chomsky m’ont paru tout à fait pertinents :

Pendant ce temps, aux Philippines, le président applique sa propre théorie des jeux (pace Thomas Schelling, décédé récemment, et on lui doit beaucoup) en signalant une menace crédible à l’ensemble de sa population. C’est à croire que sa stratégie ultime est un scenario où il survivra à une tentative d’assassinat et deviendra un demi-dieu protégé par les astres, le peuple, et par sa volonté de noyer le trafic de drogue dans un fleuve de sang. Duterte est loin d’être le seul dans ce genre, mais comme les médias l’ont remarqué, c’est le plus spectaculaire.

Pendant ce temps, en France, un ministre de l’Intérieur spécialiste des non-failles des services de renseignement6 se voit confié la mission d’étendre son immense discernement opérationnel à l’ensemble de l’action gouvernementale.

Du coup, en 2017, on verra François Hollande quitter l’Élysée (à scooter peut-être), et un immense mouvement de liesse populaireimmense, le mouvement, au moins un votant de la primaire sur mille – célébrer, place de la République, son remplacement par Arnaud Montebourg (pitié), Manuel Valls (oh bonne mère), François Fillon (achevez-moi) ou Marine Le Pen (Belgium, here I come!)—ou Jean-Luc Mélenchon (pfff), ou Vincent Peillon (lolilol), ou… La liste elle-même est triste7.

Pendant ce temps, en Grande-Bretagne… Non, ce serait trop déprimant. Je vous fais confiance pour compléter le tableau par vous-même. Mes billets sur le Brexit sont , , , et , et je n’ai pas assez travaillé le sujet au niveau juridique pour mieux comprendre ce qui peut se passer désormais.

En 2017, on devrait donc aussi entendre Theresa May faire quelques annonces sur la remilitarisation de la frontière entre la République d’Irlande et l’Irlande du Nord, même si en réalité, dans mes bons jours, je fais plutôt confiance aux juristes britanniques pour trouver une solution au problème, qui reste ultra-épineux8.

Le Royaume-Uni n’avait vraiment rien d’autre à faire que de se placer dans ce merdier.

Que retiendra-t-on de tout ça ?

Sur le long terme, peut-être pas grand chose : si le prochain président de la République persiste à ne remplacer qu’un historien sur deux, on devrait même arriver un jour à se débarrasser complètement d’eux et des autres parasites fonctionnaires qui empêchent nos finances publiques de faire contrepoids à l’évasion fiscale des hauts revenus9.

Heureusement, Patrick Buisson, Lorànt Deutsch et l’algorithme de Facebook Actualités seront encore là.

Pour terminer désormais, cette carte-tract, aperçue sur un blog de cartographe, et qui synthétise presque à elle seule la somme des absurdités de cette année :


Champagne (aux sulfates, et bientôt aux neutrons) !

Et bonne année quand même.

  1. Je cite les chiffres de mémoire. Je me souviens aussi avoir lu que 40% des jeunes grecs avaient travaillé au noir cette année. Une amie qui vient d’y passer quelques mois m’apprend que les salaires des musiciens ont été divisés par trois. []
  2. On me répliquera que la lire turque a toujours été une monnaie de singe. Je n’en sais rien. []
  3. Même pas besoin de revenir dix ans en arrière : écoutez cette émission de 2011. Quatre ans plus tard à peine, les choses avaient déjà pris une autre, triste tournure []
  4. La sollicitude des politiques municipaux nous expliquant, à l’été 2015, qu’il n’y avait « pas de places pour les loger », et ce dans une région où au moins 10% du patrimoine immobilier habitable détenu par les collectivités locales est inoccupé, a achevé de me retrancher du corps électoral « sympathisant » de la gauche de gouvernement. []
  5. Le désastre qui s’annonce est compliqué, mais permettez-moi juste une prédiction : dans les deux années qui arrivent, le président des États-Unis d’Amérique sera publiquement à l’origine de l’assassinat ciblé d’un citoyen américain à l’intérieur de ses frontières, via Twitter ou autre medium lui permettant de communiquer avec la frange psychopathe de la population des États-Unis. Et le pire, m’apprend un ami, est que cela ne suffirait même pas à déclencher l’Amendement 25. Au passage, mes billets sur Trump : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 et 6. []
  6. Tout va bien, on vous dit. Les connaisseurs du système n’y trouvent rien à redire. Du tout. Et oui, il y a une différence entre « un système faillible » et « une suite de décisions déplorables doublées de déclarations tentant de redresser la barre par l’absurde ». Et je préfère ne pas m’étendre sur les talents stratégiques de toute une équipe gouvernementale qui n’a pas compris que la déchéance de nationalité leur coûterait le vote des enfants d’immigrés : c’est du même niveau que d’avoir envoyé un projet de loi imposant les individus plutôt que les foyers fiscaux au Conseil constitutionnel (même si je retiens l’hypothèse du sabotage pour expliquer le second cas, et la bêtise crasse dans le premier). Au passage, il n’y pas de failles non plus en Allemagne, le même pays qui a connu l’un des événements les plus étranges des dernières années. []
  7. Les candidats sont non équiprobables : je mets les chances de victoire du Front national dans une élection présidentielle à deux tours à 0.01. []
  8. En bref : l’indemnisation des victimes des Troubles (les années noires des bombes de l’IRA qui explosaient dans les pubs) passe, si j’ai bien compris, par un accord communautaire ; conséquemment, si le Royaume-Uni sort de l’Union européenne, il faudra trouver un arrangement bilatéral alternatif entre Anglais et Irlandais, ce qui peut facilement virer au fiasco. Deuxième problème, s’il faut remilitariser la frontière, il n’y a pas de régiment nord-irlandais dans l’armée britannique ; conséquence, il faudra déployer des Anglais (ou des Écossais) le long de la frontière, ce qui devrait beaucoup plaire aux ex-factions armées irlandaises dont on on sait pas vraiment si elles ont rendu toutes leurs armes (l’UDA en particulier). Solution possible : un « Brexit » qui ferait directement passer le pays de l’UE à l’EEA (c’est compliqué), avec pré-signature d’un « GFA » version 2.0. []
  9. Au fait, vous avez suivi le procès Cahuzac ? []

À (ré)écouter : « FN : une force politique mouvante »

Joël est allé parler de son bouquin à la radio, et chose incroyable au 21e siècle, il a pu parler sans être interrompu toutes les 30 secondes !


C’est évidemment sur France Culture que ça se passait, dans l’émission « La Grande Table » ; à réécouter ci-dessous :

Au fil de son intervention, Joël pose plusieurs questions à la fois scientifiques et électorales :

  1. La question scientifique à 10 000 francs : pourquoi le vote FN persiste-t-il sur les mêmes territoires, alors que la structure de son électorat a changé ?
  2. Le clivage interne au Front national : comment faire pour gagner l’élection présidentielle ? Gagner seul en mode « ni-droite-ni-gauche » – ou jouer la carte du « rassemblement des droites » ?
  3. La grande difficulté de 2017 sera justement de trancher entre ces deux stratégies, en fonction du score à la présidentielle, et surtout des scores et sièges aux élections législatives.

Pour le détail, voir les 30 minutes d’antenne.